By Charlie Kimber
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Solid school strikes for Covid safety in France

Workers, students and parents backed the strikes to teach Emmanuel Macron’s government a lesson
Issue 2787
A group of students and strikers in France marching behind a banner that demands Covid safety

Paris students and teachers marching with a banner that demands the government faces up to Covid (Picture: Anne Paq)

Hundreds of thousands of school workers struck across France on Thursday demanding improved Covid safety.

The teachers’ unions said 75 percent of primary school workers and 62 percent in secondary took part. Half of primary schools closed and in Paris strikes shut 200 schools overall. 

This was the biggest school action since 2003. Almost uniquely, the action was backed by all 11 education unions, which denounced the “indescribable mess” in schools.

Speaking to Socialist Worker from a demonstration in Paris, striker Mari said, “There’s a very strong and angry mood. Our lives and our health, and the health of the children, are being sacrificed so that we can be a daycare service for the government and the employers.

“There are a lot of parents marching with us, and students too. 

“It is a militant strike. People are singing songs associated with the Yellow Vest revolt.

“We know that one or two days of action are not enough. It will make us all stronger to take up battles back in our own schools and to force demands on the management.”

Strikers and their supporters held over 100 demonstrations across France. 

Students blockaded some schools, often facing police assaults. At Helene Boucher school in Paris, a dozen cops used tear gas against students and violently cleared a barricade made up of rubbish bins.

Almost on the eve of the strike education secretary Jean-Michel Blanquer inflamed teachers further by dismissing them as “striking against the virus”.

Teacher Agatha spoke to Socialist Worker from Marseille, where 7,000 joined a march on Thursday. She said, “Blanquer knows very well that we are striking against his handling of the virus. 

“His insults just make us more determined. He’s the virus we oppose. He and his measures squeeze staff numbers and don’t allow us to have proper masks and restrictions on numbers so we can be safer.” 

The strikes, just like the recent one in US schools, should be a reminder to British school workers and their unions about the potential to fight unsafe conditions. 

In many areas strikers held general assemblies to discuss their next moves. Sometimes they were joined by other groups, such as health and railway workers who want to see action.

The Sud union said it would call on other unions to agree another strike day next week.

France is averaging more than 280,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases daily, with more than 2.5 percent of the country testing positive last week alone.

In schools, infection rates are often worse. In the greater Paris area, some 5 percent of primary and middle-school children were confirmed to be infected last week. Among 15-17 year olds, the figure was over 6 percent. 

School workers have repeatedly demanded better protection against Covid-19 in schools, calling for high-quality face masks and carbon-dioxide detectors in every school.

They have also asked to return to the protocol in place in the autumn. This set off “circuit-breaking class closures” from the first confirmed case.

But as Omicron arrived, education secretary Blanquer recklessly lifted restrictions in schools.

As classes resumed on 3 January, he removed the automatic circuit-breaker for closing a class after three confirmed infections. 

The national FCPE parents’ group also backed the strike. It said, “Hit hard by the pandemic for almost two years now, schools can no longer cope with the various protocols imposed by the Ministry of National Education.

“Like teachers, parents can no longer endure changing protocols”. 

The strikes are one sign of a counter-power to the right wing ideas that dominate official French politics. 

Polls for the presidential election next year are headed by the incumbent free market liberal Emmanuel Macron. The next three most popular contenders are the fascist Marie Le Pen, the conservative Valerie Pecresse and the far right Islamophobe Eric Zemmour.

But the school strikes—and a day of inter-union strikes and demonstrations calling out all workers on 27 January—show the potential for resistance.

The British NEU union sent support to the strike. Send your own message to [email protected] or tweet @SNUipp_FSU (primary schools union) or @SNESFSU (secondary).

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